That backlash spurred officials to issue guidance for schools, raising the minimum to 20 minutes and emphasizing that principals may add more time if they wish. But parents say 20 minutes is still too little, given the time it takes kids to travel to and from the playground.
“They’re kids. They need time to recharge their batteries and get their wiggles out,” said Becky Levin, a parent of a 6-year-old at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan. “This just doesn’t really seem to make sense on any level.”
Across the country, recess has become one flash point in a debate about whether schools — under pressure to demonstrate gains on math and reading tests in the era of the No Child Left Behind law — are siphoning too much time from art, civics education, play and other important pursuits.
Recess advocates point to research showing that physical activity can have a positive impact on student achievement and emotional well-being, and is a key to addressing the epidemic of childhood obesity.
Approaches to recess vary across the Washington region. Montgomery County schools do not have a minimum requirement, but elementary schools tend to offer a half-hour recess, officials said. Loudoun County expects schools to offer 15 minutes daily.
Fairfax County also has no policy but recommends 20 minutes per day. And Arlington County schools require between 100 and 125 minutes per week — between 20 and 25 minutes per day — for children in grades one through five. Recess for kindergartners is a few minutes longer.
Recess time varies in the District. Some schools saw a reduction this year as Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson implemented new requirements meant to ensure that all elementary students get a minimum amount of time in each subject each day: two hours of literacy, 90 minutes of math, and 45 minutes of science or social studies. An additional 45 minutes is required for an elective, such as art, music or physical education.
Henderson’s new requirements also included a minimum of 15 minutes for recess — five minutes less than the minimum specified in the school system’s wellness policy.
When parents raised questions about the discrepancy last week, officials said they would clarify for principals that the minimum expectation is 20 minutes.
“DCPS believes strongly that along with strong academics, students need access to physical activity, before, during and after school,” D.C. schools spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz said in an e-mail.
Under the new requirements, schools have 45 flexible minutes they may use for whatever they deem most important. Some have used it to expand recess past the minimum; others have not.